Introduction: Dark Crystal Fizzgig Inspired Puppet
Having long been a fan of the Dark Crystal creature universe, I've been wanting to take a crack at a Fizzgig style puppet for a while now. A friend's yard sale offered up the perfect fabric to finally make it happen. As with some of my other projects, I focused less on making this guy a movie accurate replica and more on capturing what I loved about the design. In this case, that's Fizzgig's simplicity and comedy. Think of this guy as a member of Fizzgig's species who transported into the regular Muppet universe, where things are simpler, brighter, and sillier. Some people say he looks like a Tribble Eater. Others say he looks like what a Wookie would have a for a pet. My hope for this Ible is that you can take the methods here to build a Fizzgig interpretation of your very own, or use this as a springboard for any number of original mini-monsters. The whole build took about a day and a half.
It's been a few years since I've built a hand puppet, so I looked to some other great Instructables puppet builders for refreshers on materials and mouth builds in particular. This build by TheLlama is a great source of tips for basic Muppet style puppets, and was a helpful check in to make sure I was remembering my methods correctly.
Step 1: Your Will Need...
1/2 inch thick Urethane Upholstery Foam -- The blue stuff you find in a roll at JoAnn's will do just fine since this guy is being built for fun and not long term rigorous performance. It is flexible, durable, and easy to manipulate while building.
Faux Fur or other fluffy texture poly fabric --I found this shaggy poly fabric and liked the wiggle it has when it moves. The fabric itself was pretty thin and easy for my sewing machine to handle. if you buy faux fur with a thick backing, just be sure your sewing machine tension is set accordingly, and that you have a thick needle capable of handling fur.
Hot Glue Gun
Needle and Thread (Hook shaped upholstery needle is a plus)
Craft Foam (thin)
Acrylic Felt (red, black, white, and chosen tongue color)
2 Safety Eyes and 1 Safety Nose (for plush toys)
Step 2: Foam Base
Fizzgig is all mouth, so a simple PacMan style head pattern makes a great base. The pattern I'm using here was passed on to me by a friend who took a workshop with Puppet Kitchen.Project Puppet is another great resource where beginners can order base patterns. Since the at-home puppet building community has grown so much in the last decade, you can even find some very helpful patterns up for grabs one sites like Pinterest, where makers are sharing both their purchased patterns and original drafts for public use.
If needed, enlarge/ shrink your pattern to the appropriate size for your build. Sometimes this means sneaking to your office copy room to take advantage of the 11x17 paper.
Cut out the pattern pieces. Mine includes the skull shape (or in our case, whole body shape) and a matching fitted mouth palette.
Use stick pins to secure your pattern to your foam. This ensures nothing scoots around as you trace. No need to leave a seam allowance. This pattern is made to fit together perfect, so don't mess with it!
Trace with a marking pen. Flip the pattern, secure, and trace a second time to get your other half.
Cut your pattern pieces out with quality fabric scissors. You want to get clean, square cuts. Don't use the nasty old scissors in the utility drawer that you know are just going to chew up the foam and leave a ragged edge. Also, be conscious of how you hold the scissors as you cut.Don't tilt the scissors and end up with slanted cuts that won't align when you go to glue edges together.
Trace your mouth palette shape onto the foam as well. Many builders opt for cardboard palettes, but here's why I'm not doing that: As user Llama points out, cardboard is not very durable. Also, it gets HOT inside these furry puppets. Over time, the moisture and sweat of your hand is going to warp and deteriorate a paper based mouth.
Cut out the Foam mouth shape. Use a sharpie to mark the mid-seam (where the mouth creases) so we can keep track of that for later.
Step 3: Foam Assembly
Warm up your hot glue gun. Make sure it is on a safe, level work surface.
The first bond will be the notch on top of the head. Apply a squiggle of hot glue to one side of that notch, them press against the other side. Hold until cool. If you own protective silicone finger covers for hot glue work, you may wish to put those on. Since the foam is porous, sometimes glue will come through the holes and touch your fingers when you're pressing hard.
The bonded notch should form a nice curve at the peak of the head. Repeat for the other half of the head pattern.
Now apply hot glue to the edge of the lower jaw on one pattern piece. Align with the mirror half of the pattern and press together to bond. Glue in sections no longer than 2 inches to maintain control of your foam alignment.
Continue until you hit the end of that edge. Do NOT apply glue to the adjacent edge, as this is where your hand goes.
Now apply glue to the edge of the upper jaw (where the top lip/ nose are would be). Align and Bond to the mirror side. This will form the mid seam of the head. Keep working in segments until you have hot glued all the up and over the top of the head and reach the hand hole. You'll know your alignment is on track if your two top notches line up together.
You'll end up with an intact head, with one big hole for the mouth and a smaller hole in back where your hand reaches inside the puppet.
Step 4: Mouth Palette
I made this major feature of Fizzgig a little brighter and cartoonier than it is in the movie. If you want to make a true replica, you can still use many of these methods with more realistic/ muted colors and plan for more detailing with paint or stitching.
Trace your mouth palette pattern onto some red felt, this time leaving at least and extra 1/4 inch seam allowance around the outside.
Go back your mouth mouth piece. Use a ruler as a guide between your two sharpie mid point marks. Skor the foam with a utility knife, making several gentle passes.Do NOT cut all the way through. Skor about half way through, or until you can fold the foam in half like a sandwich. The cut you've made will allow you to operate the mouth more easily because you're fighting half as much foam.
Before we continue to decorate, it's a good idea to address the interior function of the mouth. When I build puppets I like to make a secure and comfortable place for the hand to rest, which ultimately helps a LOT with performance.
Cut 2 semi circles of thin craft foam. You can use your mouth pattern as a guide, just make sure these are a bit smaller. Hot glue them to the back of the foam mouth piece (the side with the scoring). Allow at least 1/2 inch of space on either side of the skor to keep the mouth flexibility unobstructed. These foam hand rests will help keep the mouth shape firm and keep hand sweat from sinking directly into your structural foam.
I like to install elastic in my puppets to help anchor my hand in place. I find it makes a real difference in alleviating performance strain. This is as simple as eyeballing how much elastic you need to cross over your fingers and then hot gluing that to your craft foam hand pads. If you are building a puppet for someone else, have them measure across their hand so you know how much elastic allowance they will need.
Test the fit and work the mouth around to make sure your hand is comfortable. Once the mouth is installed, you won't be able to alter the fit easily.
Flip your mouth over to the front (elastics on the table). Use sparing hot glue to secure your red mouth felt to the foam. I suggest one line of glue around the curve of the mouth and one line near where the mouth will fold. Glue, smooth flat, and press. Rotate and repeat for the other hemisphere of the mouth.Put the mouth on your hand and bend in half to make sure you don't have any spots where the felt bubbles up or bunches.
From here on, the mouth is freestyle depending on what creature you're building. I freehand drew/ cut the black shape for the back of the throat and the deep red tongue. For the rings of Fizzgig teeth, I traced the outer edge of my mouth pattern onto white felt and cut out arches that fit within that size. Snipping with fabric scissors, I made simple triangle teeth all the way around. I chose to make the teeth a flat, graphic element instead of 3 dimensional for simplicity and function.
Lay your elements out before gluing to make sure you're pleased with the sizes, shapes, and colors. When you're satisfied, use fabric glue to adhere the pieces to the red felt base. This mouth gave me all sorts of ideas --Fizzgig could have been a pretty rad venus fly trap puppet too!
Step 5: Installing the Mouth
To test the fit of your mouth, simple push the whole thing into the mouth hole backwards. The foam head and mouth pieces should fit together snugly. The extra seam allowance of your red felt should rest flush on top of the "lips".
Once you're sure everything is fitting together, warm up that hot glue gun again.
Apply 1-2 inches of glue to the rim of your mouth palette foam. Tuck back into place inside the head. When cool, move up to the next section. Continue all the way around the mouth. Your felt will be your alignment guide. As long as it is resting flush on the lip edge, you'll know your foam is properly nested inside the head.
When the foam is secure you can go back around and tack down the loose red felt edges.
Step 6: Fur Coat
The poly shag fabric I found had a great liveliness to it, but it was also a little slippery to deal with.
Use stick pins to secure slippery fabric to your leftover foam. Smooth and pin.This will ensure that your pattern tracing will be accurate.
Trace onto "wrong side" of fabric, this time allowing about 3/4 inch extra all the way around. This will be your seam allowance put a little extra room to house the bulk of the foam.
Cut out the shape. Pin this shape "right side" up onto the fabric. Again, smooth and pin to lumps and inaccuracy.
Carefully brush the fur away from the edge of your first pattern piece so you can trace a mirror image onto the fabric.
Cut out the second half. Take a moment to gently pull all the shedding fur out of your edges now. You don't want to track it all over the house, or have it get jammed up in the sewing machine.
When sewing, follow the same order of assembly used for the foam.
1) Pin and sew notches in the top of the head.
2) Pin head halves together. Sew bottom jaw together, then top jaw all the way up and over the head.
3) Leave mouth and hand hole OPEN!
Turn fabric right side out. Now you have a floppy, furry PacMan type shape.
To skin your puppet, back the foam puppet form in through the open mouth hole of the fabric. Gently pull the fur up and over until the fur lips meet the corresponding foam lips. Everything should fit together nicely --not too loose and not difficult or tight.
Step 7: Features
Simple safety eyes and a nose seemed to fit the aesthetic I had going, and after all that moro on the mouth it was nice to have something that was just "plug n' play".
Assess, as best you can with your hands in the way, where you want your eyes and nose to be. I started with the nose and built outward.
Snip a small hole in the fabric and put the shaft of the safety nose through. Note: make your snip just slightly to one side of the fabric's mid seam. Snipping ON the seam means you'll probably break your thread and undo your sewing.
Secure safety nose using the matching washer.
My nose shaft was standing away from the foam and making those nose sit awkwardly, so I snipped a small hole in the foam itself so the shaft had a place to rest. Aside from solving the off filter nose issue, it also provided a way to lock the features in place.
Repeat process for eyes. You may wish to delicately snip away some fur for greater clarity of the features.
Step 8: Mouth Sewing
To secure the fur in place and cover the last traces of your foam, you'll sew all the way around the mouth. This is where that extra red felt comes in.
Using a needle and thread, start in one corner of the mouth.
Roll the edge of the fur under and catch it with your needle.Rolling the fur under helps prevent further shedding and hides your raw edge.
Next catch the edge of the red felt and pull gently. Move forward and repeat in a hemming stitch pattern.
Go all the way around one half of the mouth in this way. A hook shaped upholstery needle makes this work a little easier. You may find them especially handy for working in the tight corners of the mouth.
I suggest doing top jaw, then starting a new thread for the bottom jaw. Trying to do the whole mouth in one go will likely result in loopy bunched thread or running out at an awkward position.
Step 9: Tail (optional)
Fizzgig has a long fluffy tail that we see a few times in the movie. I decided to give one to my puppet as it seems like a nice little flourish opportunity for a performance.
This is a good opportunity to use some scrap from your fur fabric. I used a long, but non-uniform, piece I had leftover. Simply hot glue along one side, sandwich, and press. Work your way down the length of your scrap. The end result may be a little asymmetrical, but I think that can lend an organic feel.
To Attach the Tail:
Go to the hand hole, now your only open hole on the puppet.
Place your puppet face down on the work surface.
Now lift the edge of the fur at the top center of the hole.
Apply a blob of hot glue. Quickly apply the end of your tail to that glue and then press the body fur back down. The glue will bond the three entities together and plant the tail firmly.
Now you can go around the edge of the hand hole and use hot glue dots to tack down the rest of the fur rim, hiding the very last of your blue foam. Once this is done, you never have to look at your puppet from a colonoscopy angle again.
Step 10: Feet (optional)
Fizzgig also has little feet that we only see once or twice. I decided to make them even though they aren't a prominent feature, thinking they might be fun for posing on a set. This is just a simple plush element.
Freehand a simple pattern on scrap paper.
Trace 4 times into fleece of a coordinating color.
Cut out the fleece shapes.
Pin together 2x 2.I chose to hand stitch the pieces together since the feet are so small and I wanted control over the curve of the toes.
Remember to carefully clip your curves after sewing, to maintain the truest form.
Turn right side out, then stuff them just a pinch of poly fill.
Close up the edge with a simple overcast stitch.
Brush back the fur and pin in position on the body.
A double thread with a hook needle work well for attaching the feet. Secure and clip the end up your thread.
Step 11: DONE!
My monster is complete! Again, totally not a replica of movie Fizzgig by any means, but I'm actually quite happy with the strange little Dark Crystal inspired creature he turned out to be. Killer Tribble, Wookie pet, or escaped Muppet, clearly there's no shortage of cosplay and stage fun to be had with a pac man puppet head and some fur.
**UPDATE** I have listed the final puppet on eBay for sale. 50% of the proceeds from this auction will be donated to the Burbank Animal Shelter, a local shelter with an excellent kitten foster program, dog hiking socialization program, and very high adoption rate. The winning bidder may choose whether their money goes to the cats or dogs. If you feel passionate about another type of animal (reptiles, horses, etc.) I am certainly willing to discuss an animal rescue group of your choosing. Pass this link to your fellow puppet/ animal lovers and let's make some money for critters!